Students Prompt Reversal of Study Away Housing Policy

With a new wave of students every year, the problem of housing both the newcomers and current residents always comes up. Furman is an institution that requires on campus living all four years of attendance. Ron Thompson, Director of Housing and Residence Life sent an email to students announcing the new housing lottery adjustments.

By Leigh Robertson

With a new wave of students every year, the problem of housing both the newcomers and current residents always comes up. Furman is an institution that requires on campus living all four years of attendance.

On Thur., Feb. 14, Ron Thompson, Director of Housing and Residence Life sent an email to students announcing the new housing lottery adjustments. The policy states that students studying away in the fall may reserve their space by either paying 75% of the cost of the space to guarantee they will reside in the space when they return, or 100% of the cost of the space if they wish to store their belongings during their absence. The email also announced that a limited number of students will be able to live in the Vinings for the 2013-2014 year.

This email to students was a retraction of previous regulation changes announced earlier in the semester. On Jan. 23, Thompson sent an email to students announcing that no students would be able to live in the Vinings in the fall. On Feb. 5, Thompson sent out another email announcing the decision not to allow students studying abroad in the fall to reserve space in rooms for their return.

These announcements shocked many students and sent them into action fighting the policy change. Behind the scenes, the housing department has attempted to come up with a solution that would satisfy both students and Furman’s budget.

The logistics of it all involve efforts from many departments and input from both students and faculty. Ron Thompson provided the Paladin insight about housing at the Vinings apartment unit and options for housing students who study away for a semester.

The housing situation for the Vinings has been the same since Furman started using this apartment complex for students. It is simply a resource for overflow housing and is offered only to seniors on a lottery basis. For many years in the past the Vinings has been offered and sought out by upperclassmen, however it was announced that there may be no need to put students there next year.

Financially, Furman University earns no money from students residing in the Vinings. The money from on campus housing goes to the University but the Vinings has to pay for itself.

“While we’re not generating revenue for Furman from on campus housing, we are not able to offer long time leases for people at the Vinings,” said Thompson.

The most stable income that pays for the Vinings are the residents there that pay for full 12 month leases, not the students. When there are empty spots on campus, extra funds have to be pulled to pay for the Vinings.

Both the decision to stop housing students in the Vinings and to not allow students to reserve space in rooms came down to crunching numbers and making predictions.

“It’s really just about trying to balance,” said Thompson.

At the moment, the admissions and housing departments are trying to predict the number of students to make accommodations for next year.

“Liberal projections for the incoming freshman class indicate a lower number,” said Thompson.

Besides incoming student statistics, information about retention rates, and off campus living is also gathered to determine whether there will be an overflow after filling on campus occupancies.

The forecasted data is based off of ongoing student population changes and past trends. Everything is accounted for, from leave of absence to off campus residency at a fraternity house. The main two categories are the size of the incoming class and graduating class and the retention rate of students between those 4 years.

“We have a retention committee and they work to compile facts about who has left and why they left,” said Thompson. “We have statistics about retention between grades and for each class.”

In addition, there is an enrollment metrics group headed by Associate Vice President for Admissions Brad Pochard that tallies the estimated number of incoming students including both freshman and transfer students. When all of these numbers make it to housing, they factor in the odds of needing extra housing for those students who don’t have an open room on campus. The current projection is a negative number, which means there is no need for the usage of the Vinings.

Even though there is enough room for the projected student population for the 2013-14 school year, there were concerns when it came to study away students reserving a spot on campus.

It was estimated that nearly all of the 2490 vacancies on campus would be filled, making it difficult for housing to allow students to reserve needed space. Even with a payment of 50 or 75% of the semester cost, Housing might need to use the room while the student studying abroad is gone.

Many concerns arose from the announcement that study away students no longer had the option to reserve housing where they wished.

“The main concern is that people don’t want to try and figure out where they are going to live and who they are going to live with while they are half a world away, which is completely understandable,” said Thompson. “This translates to a quality of life issue. From a financial aspect we ask ourselves if the trade off is really worth the cost.”

Many students voiced their opinions on the matter through a petition and direct emails, and Rob Thompson reevaluated the situation with his colleagues. A decision was jointly made to open the option for students to reserve a room back up.

Ultimately, Thompson said, “We will do whatever we can so that people can live with who they want to live with when they return from study away.”

The immediate apprehension from students is slowly being dissolved. A proposal for new housing policies occurred without intensive consideration of student opinion and forecasted population rates.

“I wish we had approached this differently and that information was more clearly understood, and that we had talked with students before it was rolled out,” said Thompson.

Although all this has caused a lot of confusion, when it comes down to it, the policies are not drastically changing for the 2013-14 school year.

Student are still able to reserve their space while they study away, and seniors still have a chance to live in the Vinings.

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